Damage from a North Korea missile launch would last decades

When North Korea is threatening to launch missiles, targets unknown, there's a lot at stake. Photo: Reuters

It was this time, to the day, last year when North Korea had a rocket ready to launch. The countdown had begun.

The Friday before the April 15th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the founder of the Communist dynasty which rules over North Korea, was when the rocket was finally launched.

It exploded seconds later showering the sea with burning shrapnel.

Embarrassed officials squirmed in their seats in the press centre we'd been invited to in the North Korean capital; Pyongyang.

Now here we are on the Friday before the key date in the North Korean calendar.

This time we are waiting and watching for the launch of a missile, with a successful rocket launch and a nuclear test completed by the North Korean military.

That's why have to take the threats now more seriously.

When North Korea is threatening to launch missiles, targets unknown, there's a lot at stake.

There are some of the world's largest economies in this region and conflict here would arguably affect everyone in the world.

On the streets of Seoul there's no sense of panic, the stock market has risen over the last few days, for example.

However, the real fear is what exactly will the North Koreans be able to launch. Uncertainty is the best weapon the leadership has.

North Korea's rocket splintered and crashed into the sea minutes after it was launched in April 2013.

Last year we were in North Korean capital at a massive military parade to celebrate the big birthday.

What looked like new missiles were unveiled. The Musudan appeared to look like a three stage missile on a mobile launcher. That would be a game changer.

Better able to be hidden, no fixed launch pad needed and an intermediate range ballistic missile with a approximate range of 2,500 miles.

Now there's a debate about whether they were real or not but they were wheeled out at the end of a massive parade to make a clear statement of intent.

If they are genuine and if launched and if successful then in theory a Musudan would be capable of hitting US targets in Hawaii or even Alaska.

That would significantly raise the temperature in the last corner of the Cold War.

Talking to defence experts the concern is that a new missile would lead to a new arms race in the this region.

The South Koreans, the Japanese perhaps, deciding they need their own nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

Even if the missiles are launched in a show of strength and land in the sea, the North Koreans could be on the brink of starting a new nuclear arms race in this vital region.

Certainly one of the dangers of the DPRK successfully testing a mobile IRBM, an intermediate range missile, is the likelihood that it would provide even more impetus for South Korea and even Japan to develop their own nuclear weapons so as to have an effective deterrent outside of the US provided nuclear umbrella.

We also likely continue to see continued investment in strategic anti-missile systems by the US, which could lead the Chinese or even the Russians to re-evaluate whether their own nuclear arsenals are likely to be effective and survivable in the case of conflict with the US.

Continued provocations and development of nuclear weapons and their associated delivery systems by North Korea has a host of implications, each one more concerning than the last.

– David Reeths, IHS

So, are we about to see a major turning point that would inflame the tensions that have existed here for so many years and worryingly upset the entire strategic balance on the volatile Korean peninsular.

The launch of a missile would take minutes, the damage would last decades.